HOUSTON -- The Astros are hopeful right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will miss only one start after he was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday with right shoulder soreness. The move is retroactive to Saturday, meaning McCullers will be eligible to come off the IL on June 2.
“We’re erring on the side of caution with going from 60 games to 162,” general manager James Click said. “We felt it was better to let him skip a start. … We’ll reassess in a day or two and see where he’s at. At this point of the season, these guys have pitched almost as long as they did all of last year. We’re very cognizant of the workload and making sure we manage it and err on the side of caution.”
McCullers, who is 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts this season, last pitched Saturday against the Rangers in Arlington, allowing three runs and six hits in five innings while throwing 105 pitches. McCullers, who signed a five-year, $85 million extension in the spring, has thrown 51 2/3 innings, which is just shy of the 55 innings he threw in last year’s 60-game regular season. Last season marked McCullers’ return to action after he missed 2019 following Tommy John surgery.
Valdez, Odorizzi set to rejoin rotation
With McCullers going on the IL, the Astros announced that left-handed starter Framber Valdez will make his 2021 debut on Friday against the Padres and right-hander Jake Odorizzi will be activated from the IL to start on Saturday.
Valdez broke his left ring finger on March 2 in his first start of the spring, and he has been rehabbing since. Odorizzi suffered a right pronator strain in his third start of the year on April 24. They made their second rehab starts over the weekend at Triple-A Sugar Land, with Valdez throwing 54 pitches in four innings on Saturday and Odorizzi throwing 77 pitches in 4 2/3 innings on Monday.
Click said the Astros could have let them each have one more rehab start to get their pitch counts higher, but he decided to activate them this weekend with right-handed starter José Urquidy and now McCullers both on the IL.
“It was a little bit of a conversation about do we want to get them fully built up at Triple-A before they come back or do we want to take what they can give us now at the Major League level?” Click said. “We will have conversations with the trainers and pitching coaches Friday to determine exactly how far they can go -- and on Saturday for Odorizzi, obviously. Hopefully, once they get through these starts, if they get through them healthy and feeling good, at that point they’ll be fully ready to go.”
Valdez was a breakout performer for the Astros last year, going 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 11 games (10 starts) with 16 walks and 63 hits allowed in the regular season. Including the playoffs, he threw 94 2/3 innings, which was the most of any pitcher in the big leagues.
Javier moved to bullpen
The return of Valdez and Odorizzi this weekend -- and perhaps Urquidy as early as next week -- have enabled the Astros to move right-hander Cristian Javier to the bullpen, which has struggled lately. The Astros will use Javier and his swing-and-miss stuff as a multi-inning weapon like they did in the playoffs last year, when he threw three scoreless innings in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Twins.
Javier is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in nine starts this season, allowing 17 earned runs with 58 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings. Walks have been an issue, however. He’s averaging 3.88 walks per nine innings, including six on Sunday against the Rangers.
“It’s not a statement about his long-term future in any way, shape or form,” Click said. “This is about our roster right now and trying to maximize our chances to win games right now. We’ll have to balance that against what we think his long-term future is, because he does have the upside to be a star in the Major Leagues, because we’ve seen it.”
Click said he was concerned with the performance of the bullpen, which had posted a 5.74 ERA with 12 walks in 15 2/3 innings during four consecutive losses entering Wednesday.
“We think these guys can do it, but we’re not going to cut off the possibility of adding some guys from outside the organization if that’s what it comes to,” he said. “We can’t walk as many guys as we’ve walked over the last four days and there not be some level of concern.”